In Praise of Being Daring (And Wrong)

Shulamith-FirestoneSady Doyle in In These Times:

Shulamith Firestone, who died last week at the age of 67, was the sort of woman who seems almost unimaginable to us today. She was a “political celibate,” a Marxist who applied her political theories to her intimate life on a profound level, a woman who argued, in her landmark work The Dialectic of Sex, for the implementation of “cybernetics” so as to relieve women of the burdens of pregnancy and childbearing, a woman who wanted not to end gender-based oppression but to end gender: “the end goal of feminist revolution must be… not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself.” And when she went, with her went part of the legacy of radically creative feminism.

Feminist writing nowadays seems mostly to stay at the level of “critique,” of protest. We have certain well-established truths—people should be able to get abortions; people should not rape or sexually harass each other; women should not have to model themselves on sexist male fantasies; ladies have complex inner lives and enjoy sex, just like men; a true feminism should be intersectional, in order to account for the experiences of all women—and we largely stick to them. They are good truths; I’m a fan of them all. They provide a very solid foundation. But, having established them, we often stay at the level of pointing out which people have recently failed to uphold them, and why they’re wrong.

Plunging into the intellectual climate of the ‘70s and ‘80s, if one is conditioned largely by contemporary feminism, is like entering an alternate reality. It feels like what would happen if your RSS feed were filmed by David Lynch. The theories were often wild, and wildly creative. Point me to a feminist working today who would propose a theory as perverse and inflammatory as Andrea Dworkin’s idea that penetrative intercourse was the model for all male domination. Or even Adrienne Rich’s theory that all women existed primarily on a “lesbian continuum” of relationship to women, and were thereafter policed into heterosexuality (or at least the appearance of heterosexuality) by men, as a means of controlling and constraining them. These weren’t critiques; they were constructions, fundamentally questioning and re-organizing the shape of culture itself.